Testing Argus Surveillance VMS

Author: Benros Emata, Published on Jul 12, 2010

In this test, we examine Argus Surveillance's VMS, an offering that provides licensing for unlimited numbers of cameras and servers for less than $1000 and for 16 cameras at less than $200. Can a price so low be for real? What tradeoffs and issues will you face?

This test was conducted on a Windows 7, 64 bit machine, integrating a range of cameras including the Axis Q1755, D-Link DCS-920 TRENDnet TV-IP110. 

While some of the provided functionalities were impressive and similar to much more expensive solutions, a complete lack of support raised concerns over how dependable and for how long could one depend on this system for their surveillance. This may be attractive for someone really looking to save up-front but could result in expensive problems or issues down the line.

When evaluating Argus Suveillance DVR Software, the following 10 key criteria / decision points should be considered.

Criteria Strength Description
 Pricing Strong Less than $200 for 16 channels; Less than $1000 for unlimited cameras running on unlimited servers
Simplicity Moderate Setup is fragmented amongst various menus / sub-menus
 3rd Party IP Camera Support  Moderately Weak Moderate support but limited for newer cameras
H.264 Support None Not supported
Analytics Support  Weak Detects faces, provides search, no support documentation
Exporting  Moderate Unintuitive workflow
Remote Monitoring  Strong Live monitoring, investigations & administration all available
Run as a Service Moderate

Is not enabled by default, simple to configure via checkbox

Multi-camera Playback Strong

Includes visual thumbnails on timeline

Support None

We cannot get hold of the company by any means

Key Findings

Technical Support:  Technical support appears to be non-existent. We received no reply to our numerous requests for technical support via their website over a span of a month. No phone number is provided on Argus's website.

Face Detection:  We were able to capture faces but the subject needed to be in a very narrow field of view (less than 5 feet wide) and the lighting needed to be even. At slight angles (tilting one's head away from the camera) or with modest shadows, face catpure was infrequent. No supporting documentation was provided for face detection. It is possible that some setting(s) exist to improve this but with the limitations noted, this was the best results we could achive.

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Setup:  Generally setup is simple and straightforward; however, the fragmented interface can cause some confusion. For example, numerous menus and sub-menus must be accessed to completely configure a camera for recording (event monitoring, frame rate, schedules, etc.). Potential for error during setup is increased because related configurations are not grouped together within a single page or 'workspace'.

Live Monitoring / Investigations:  Live monitoring is easy even for non-technical users. Primary camera controls and thumbnails representing cameras feeds are displayed on-screen. Untrained users can select controls or select thumbnails to view or control video.

Investigations, excluding the export process, provides useful options that are simple to use. For example, visual thumbnails are displayed on the timeline and motion search and even multi-camera synchronized playback is provided. However, the exporting workflow is awkward, requiring the investigator to redo the same search before initiating export. This may cause problems or prevent a novice user from exporting video.

Recommendations

For small business, with 4 or less cameras, Argus provides a generally simple interface to navigate and administer. Although the IP camera support is limited, those supported may be able to utilize the discovery tool for a level of user-friendliness. At $89 for 4 cameras, it's relatively inexpensive.

Argus does provide capabilities for the small to large SMB deployments, that might have a higher number of operators and cameras and some of those include:
  • Full featured remote access (live monitoring, investigations and administration)
  • Expanded user permission settings (including individual camera permissions)
  • Various search capabilities
  • Numerous storage features
  • Multi-camera playback with visual thumbnails
A full fledged remote web interface could also prove as a cost saver when considering the per workstation license.

However, for 8 cameras, the system offers some advanced functionality for a 'cheap' offering of only$118.00.

The lack of H.264 support may prove to be the inhibitor in terms of scaling deployments. At 16 cameras, all recording at MJPEG for example, will become a costly addition as storage is consumed rapidly. This would be especially true for those deploying high resolution or megapixel cameras.

Larger scale systems of dozens of cameras or dozens of server are supported but with only MJPEG recording and no enterprise management, the super cheap upfront cost of $10 or less per camera (effectively given their 16 camera are up pricing) makes this attractive to buyers who want to cut costs upfront and are willing or ignorant or the long term storage or administration costs the system will incur.

Product Overview

Computing Platform Support

Argus Surveillance DVR supports Windows 2000, XP, 2003 or Vista 32 bit. The software is downloadable from their website, which provides the local client and remote functionality. A white paper available on their website provides further details.

Third Party Support

No documentation is available via the website to provide reference. From the driver list, however, we can provide some insight and examples on availability. Examples of camera include (but not limited to):

  • Axis generic drivers
  • IQInvision (older model lines)
  • Linksys generic drivers
  • Panasonic generic drivers + some limited models
  • Sony generic drivers + some limited models

The list of supported cameras appear to be somewhat broad but outdated. Although we did test the Axis Q1755, this was done using the generic MJPEG mode. The availability of generic drivers can alleviate some 'lock-in' potential with specific cameras as we've seen with various VMS offerings.

Pricing

Argus sells its software on-line direct to users. It lists the following pricing/package options:

  • 4 cameras max, single computer - $89.00
  • 8 cameras max, single computer - $118.00
  • 16 cameras max, single computer - $198.00
  • 32 cameras max, single computer - $338.00
  • unlimited cameras, single computer - $488.00
  • Site Licenese:  unlimited cameras, up to 20 computers - $870.000
  • World Wide License:  unlimited cameras, up to 100 computers - $990.00

We believe that the computer reference means that a given number of servers can be used with full capabilities. Using the World Wide License as an example, this would mean that 100 systems can be used to record video. This results in a $10 per 'site' cost and can actually be quite an attractive offering; however, without response from Argus, we cannot verify accuracy of this statement.

Potential customers should note that the lack of response from Argus in combination of the outdated camera support raises a red flag. It should be made aware that although the system can be one of the most inexpensive at this end of the market, comes with a risk - lacking basic support for the product. 

Usability

The following screencast examines usability highlights of Argus' VMS system. Key points include:

  • No response from technical support (00:16 min)
  • No supporting documentation for face detection analytics (01:13 min)
  • Administration is fragmented (03:10 min)
  • Visual thumbnails are helpful for investigations (05:23 min)
  • Odd exporting workflow (06:25 min)
  • Useful account permission (07:33 min)
  • Full remote capabilities via the web interface (08:45 min)

Administration

The following screencast examines how to configure/setup Argus' VMS system. Key points include:

  • Single executable (00:13 min)
  • Using the camera discovery tool (01:14 min)
  • Enabling event monitoring and schedules (02:41 min)
  • Assigning camera level permissions (04:20 min)
  • Full-featured remote web interface (05:11 min)

Live Monitoring & Investigations

The following screencast examines live video monitoring with Argus' VMS system. Key points include:

  • Single client for both live and investigations (00:14 min)
  • Monitoring cameras (01:22 min)
  • Visual thumbnails provided for investigations (02:54 min)
  • Working with the exporting workflow (04:10 min)
  • Full-featured remote web interface (05:41 min)

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